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Christmas thoughts for hard times

An Open Letter By Lily Sridhar

Dear One,

I was thinking of you today and wanting to send some encouragement your way, when my thoughts went back to the very first Christmas. The picture that came to mind wasn’t the traditional depiction of the Nativity, though, with Mary looking serene and lovely in a fresh gown, adoring the infant Jesus wrapped in spotless white linen and lying in a manger that looks more like a nice piece of furniture than a feeding trough for farm animals, while a donkey, groomed for the occasion, stands beside tall, strong, unshakable Joseph. No, the picture I saw was probably more true to life.

How difficult it must have been for Mary to make the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem when she was due to give birth any day. The Bible doesn’t actually say that Jesus was born the same night she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, but a 65-mile trek, whether on foot or the back of a donkey, certainly would have been strenuous enough to bring on labor. Contractions are hard enough to manage in pleasant surroundings. Imagine starting labor on a dusty road with miles to go. What a test that must have been for her. Can’t you hear Joseph telling her over and over, “Just hold on a little longer,” as they journeyed on?

Or perhaps Joseph was near the end of his rope also, weary and plagued with doubt. Couldn’t he have found a better way to travel or made the journey sooner? Perhaps he was tempted to despair when they arrived in Bethlehem and the inn was full. Couldn’t he have found a better place for Mary to give birth than a barn?

Mary and Joseph both probably feared at some point that they would fail in the all-important mission they had been chosen for—the mission of bringing the bearer of God’s love and light into a world lost in darkness.

Think of the joy they must have felt, though, when they held their newborn and gazed into His beautiful, loving eyes! That moment is one that every new parent treasures, as well as one of life’s most rewarding experiences. It must have been even more special for Mary and Joseph, as their little baby shone with God’s love like no other newborn ever had. From all accounts, the few others who saw baby Jesus that night each sensed that—strange as it must have seemed—He would be their guiding light and fulfill God’s promise of salvation.

But the night of Jesus’ birth was also the beginning of a life of trouble, danger, sorrow, and pain for Him and His family. There was the final glorious victory when Jesus rose from the dead, but that victory didn’t come easily.

So much depended on Mary and Joseph, who, apart from their unique calling as Jesus’ earthly parents, were normal flesh-and-blood people like you and me. How tough it must have been for them at times! Seen in that light, my own trials and struggles, as oversized and overpowering as they seem at times, look more manageable.

It’s natural to get discouraged or lose hope when circumstances overwhelm us and we feel nobody cares. I feel that way sometimes, and reflecting on all that you’ve gone through this past year, dear friend, I expect you must too. I want to encourage you, though, to keep going no matter what—to “fight the good fight of faith,”1as the Bible puts it—knowing that nothing can separate you from God’s love 2 and you are not alone in life’s battles.

Hold on, dear friend, and someday we will all celebrate the victory together—Mary, Joseph, Jesus, you, me, and a whole lot of others. Why? Because by God’s grace we didn’t give up but kept hoping, persevering, and loving to the end.

Lily Sridhar is a member of the Family International in India.